Bernie Ecclestone’s $8 billion legacy

Michael Lamonato Columnist

By Michael Lamonato, Michael Lamonato is a Roar Expert

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    “I was deposed today,” Bernie Ecclestone told Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport. “I am simply gone.”

    As of Tuesday, 24 January 2017, 86-year-old Bernard Charles Ecclestone is no longer in control of Formula One.

    And after a decades-long career of infamously short and slippery language, the ex-F1 CEO’s parting words were straight to the point:

    “I am no longer the leader of the company. My position has been taken by Chase Carey.”

    Carey, the moustachioed, Harvard-educated American media mogul once proclaimed as Rupert Murdoch’s successor – by Murdoch himself – is now behind the wheel, and he’s wasting little time changing the seating position and adjusting the rear-view mirror.

    “I am excited to be taking on the additional role of CEO,” said chairman Carey, confirming Liberty Media’s purchase of Formula One was now complete and announcing a series of rapid-fire hirings.

    “I am thrilled Sean [Bratches] is joining Formula One,” Carey proclaimed. “Sean was a driving force in building ESPN into one of the world’s leading sports franchises. His expertise and experience … will be invaluable as we grow Formula One.”

    And another.

    “I am delighted to welcome Ross [Brawn] back to Formula One,” he announced. “In his 40 years in the sport he’s brought his magic touch to every team with which he has worked … and I have already benefitted greatly from his advice and expertise.”

    The face of Formula One shifted dramatically in a matter of minutes, and with intent: change is coming, and quickly.

    Fans can be cautiously optimistic these changes will rejuvenate Formula One, after years of analogue operation in a digital age.

    F1’s once-unstoppable growth has stalled since the 2000s. Though the sport showcases automotive innovation, F1 itself has refused to meaningfully follow suit beyond gimmicky tweaks.

    A reluctance to invest in new media – broken in only the last 24 months – ever-decreasing trackside access, and a bloody-minded march towards pay television at the expense of swathes of viewers earned Ecclestone only detractors. The sport’s new rulers have signalled these areas as key growth opportunities.

    But paywalls, high ticket prices and Formula One management’s infamous YouTube take-down notices do not define Ecclestone’s legacy – instead, Formula One’s $US8 billion valuation speaks far more about one of world sport’s most prolific deal-makers.

    Bernie Ecclestone

    From the moment Bernie joined F1 in the 1950s – first as a driver manager, then as a team owner, later as leader of the Formula One Constructors Association, and eventually as the commercial right holder – he pushed the sport from its amateur garage origins into a world of exclusive glitz and glamour.

    His plan was deceptively simple. He whipped the sport into shape with his famous eye for detail – the organisation of advertising banners in any given TV frame is illustrative – to sell it in season-long packages to broadcasters, and with more television eyeballs came more advertising dollars.

    Formula One’s newfound riches professionalised the teams and the sport. The cars became faster and more advanced, the drivers became more dedicated and skilled, and Formula One commanded more and more attention. The cycle perpetuated.

    On these fundamentally sound foundations Carey, Bratches, and Brawn can at last build F1 its long-term future.

    With dab-hand Brawn helming the motorsport side of the business, a pathway towards more egalitarian politics and evidenced-based regulations has been substantially cleared.

    With Bratches, a former ESPN executive as the fundamentally old-world media outlet transitioned into the digital age, a strategy for a more accessible sport is assured.

    And with Carey’s history of being earmarked for virtual global domination with some of the world’s most significant businesses, the sport’s commercial future is in safe hands.

    It’s an undeniably strong team, well matched to the task, and with urgent matters already at hand – the British, Malaysian, and German grands prix hang by threads, and Manor is on the brink of collapse, to name but a few – it won’t take long for their work’s impact to be felt.

    But even in acknowledging the sport’s sudden delivery from stagnation to a place of hope, one must concede ground to Ecclestone. After years of talk that only he could do the job of leading Formula One, it has indeed taken a trio to come to grips with the role he has played for decades.

    “I’m proud of the business that I built over the last 40 years and all that I have achieved with Formula One,” read Bernie’s formal statement. “[I] would like to thank all of the promoters, teams, sponsors, and television companies that I have worked with.”

    Much like the athletes his sport champions, correctly choosing his exit was always going to be difficult, but the peaceful transition of power has allowed the sun to set gracefully on Ecclestone’s tenure.

    And so it should – as divisive as his reign was, no-one has, nor perhaps ever will, do as much for Formula One as the iconic mop-topped former used car dealer they call Mr E.

    Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelLamonato

    Michael Lamonato
    Michael Lamonato

    Michael is one-third of F1 podcast Box of Neutrals, as heard weekly on ABC Grandstand Digital nationwide. Though he's been part of the F1's travelling press room since 2012, people seem more interested in the time he was sick in a kart ? but don't ask about that, follow him on Twitter instead @MichaelLamonato.

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    The Crowd Says (7)

    • January 25th 2017 @ 7:16pm
      Simoc said | January 25th 2017 @ 7:16pm | ! Report

      Yes the future is promising. The transition looks to be good and Carey wants iconic races saying there will be a British GP.
      He wants to increase the value of the race to the host which is a nice attitude.

      With new faster cars rolling out on the grid it’s possible the Mercs won’t be at the front as well. Unfortunately Red Bull look to be the only alternative given Ferraris penchant for building slow cars. Can McLaren or Renault surprise us?

      Probably not this year but they need to be having podium finishes. I’m hoping Hulkenburg will finally win a GP or two.

      • Columnist

        January 26th 2017 @ 4:49pm
        Michael Lamonato said | January 26th 2017 @ 4:49pm | ! Report

        You never know, Ferrari might fluke the season and build a competitive car! More likely we’ll see a battle between Red Bull Racing and Mercedes, but even this is a pretty good deal — you only need two cars to have a race, so with four in the mix our chance of seeing a battle for the lead at every race has increased significantly.

        That’s without the intrigue that always comes with new regulations — who’s found a loophole, who’s car allows for the fastest development — and with Bottas at Mercedes.

        With Ross Brawn in charge of the sporting side I’m confident the sport will become healthier on the track, too, so things are certainly looking up.

    • Roar Pro

      January 26th 2017 @ 3:25am
      anon said | January 26th 2017 @ 3:25am | ! Report

      Bernie is a truly great man who made F1 what it is today.

      Ratings began dropping after 2008, but remember that 2009 was a shambles of a year with the double diffuser rule controversy and the beginning of ugly cars. 2011 was an uncompetitive year, and F1 has been completely uncompetitive since the mid-season break of 2013. We’re in 2017 now. Even I’m bored of only one car having the chance of winning.

      Bernie was completely against these hybrid engines all along. In the last few years the uncompetitiveness created by the hybrid engines has been a big reason why people have stopped watching. Not to mention that the quiet engines have removed much of the thrill from attending a race in person.

      • January 26th 2017 @ 9:04am
        BrainsTrust said | January 26th 2017 @ 9:04am | ! Report

        I would say the people complaining about the cars being quieter don’t attend races.
        You needed ear plugs for formula one before.
        Watching it on TV these sort of comments are easy to make.

        • Columnist

          January 26th 2017 @ 4:53pm
          Michael Lamonato said | January 26th 2017 @ 4:53pm | ! Report

          Agreed. I think there have been positives to come from the engine change, and the performance gaps are equalising now anyway so as to reduce the advantage of having a Mercedes unit.

          I think in person they sound more interesting — you can hear the power unit working now, and there’s more variety in sound between the four different manufacturers.

      • Columnist

        January 26th 2017 @ 4:52pm
        Michael Lamonato said | January 26th 2017 @ 4:52pm | ! Report

        I don’t think it’s fair to call 2009 a shambles — the arrival of Red Bull Racing and Sebastian Vettel, Jenson’s fairytale championship, and a bit of a scrap for wins in the second half of the season. Plus 2010 was a great season, as was 2012 and, to a lesser extent, 2014, so there’s been plenty for people to watch since 2008.

    • February 2nd 2017 @ 3:35pm
      Gavin said | February 2nd 2017 @ 3:35pm | ! Report

      I acknowledge that Bernie Ecclestone has taken F1 to a new level – but I am not sorry to see him go. With the exception of a small number of seasons, F1 has for some time displayed the hallmarks of a sport which has lost its way. The introduction of major manufacturer interest (beginning with Renault in 1977) was perhaps inevitable, but that – coupled with Ecclestone’s consistently skewed allocation of profits to front-running teams, to the consistent detriment of the backmarkers – has resulted in a formula which is certainly a spectacle, but not motor racing. Where the organisers and rule-makers have to resort to artificial measures (DRS, tyre changes refuelling) to create position changes, there is something fundamentally wrong. NASCAR, Indycar, the BTCC (there are many other examples) have tight regulations which deliver proper racing – much better than F1, For that matter, any dyed in the wool motor sport enthusiast will arguably see better racing at a local club event than they will at a Grand Prix.

      If F1 is meant to be the pinnace of single seater racing, then it should also deliver the very best racing. Right now it falls far short of doing that, and maybe this fundamental issue is why TV viewers are turning off, and spectators not turning up. I wish Carey every success. F1 desperately needs it.

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